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THE STATE OF THE GAME

Bud Selig: Commissioner Extraordinaire
By Joe Sheehan

Bud Selig is a sniveling weasel.

He professes to have been hurt by the Braves' departure from Milwaukee in 1965, but got his own team by stealing it from another municipality—Seattle—just five years later. Now he wants to take teams away from two other cities, re-creating his pain for thousands, if not millions, of fans.

Bud Selig is untrustworthy.

He claims to want what is best for baseball, but does more to tear down the game than to promote it. He still approaches it as the owner of a team in a Midwestern city, concerned only with how much money he can get from (1) state and municipal governments; (2) the players; and (3) the other owners. He is the source of baseball's ongoing "anti-marketing" campaign, where entire cities are told to stay away from the ballpark because the local team has no chance to win and the ballpark sucks and the players are greedy.

It was Bud Selig who signed off on the brilliant idea of tying revenue-sharing payments to payroll, a system that incentivized being cheap. The two most likely candidates for contraction are the two teams that took greatest advantage of the flaws in Selig's plan.

And then he calls the places they play "markets that generate insufficient local revenues to justify the investment in the franchise."

Bud Selig is an extortionist.

This isn't about viability, or competitiveness, or any of the other marginally acceptable reasons for ditching a franchise or two. This is extortion. This is about trying to force a city or a state to commit millions of taxpayer dollars to a stadium that will generate lots of money for private enterprise.

The Minnesota Twins' track record in recent years blows away that of the Milwaukee Brewers or Pittsburgh Pirates:

•The Minnesota Twins went 85–77 this year. The Brewers haven't won eighty-five games since 1992, nor have the Pirates.

The Minnesota Twins have been to—and won—two World Series since the last time either the Brewers or the Pirates appeared in one.

•The Minnesota Twins franchise is more than one hundred years old. The Milwaukee Brewer franchise hasn't been around half that much time.

The issue at hand isn't market size or on-field play; it's simply that Major League Baseball hasn't been able to threaten, cajole, or otherwise get its hands on a $400 million cut of Minnesota's tax dollars. But the Milwaukee Brewers and the Pittsburgh Pirates were able to wheedle taxpayer-funded ballparks from their governments, so they're not in any danger of being contracted no matter how long they remain uncompetitive.

Threatening to take away a franchise isn't about improving baseball. It's about setting the tone for stadium extortions in the present and future while opening up a couple of markets for teams to use as blackmail chips going forward.

And it's more than that. By putting forth the idea that there are four teams under consideration, Selig is creating an atmosphere of fear and uncertainty, most likely in the hopes that a city which feels it may lose its team will cave-in to MLB's demands and cough up hundreds of millions of dollars in ransom money to get off the endangered list.

Bud Selig is stupid.

On November 4, 2001, baseball was on a high unlike any since the waning days of the 1998 season. The seventh game of the best World Series in a decade was complete, a fresh set of heroes was crowned, and the game had gotten its best television ratings in years.

Two days later Bud gave all of that good will away in one easy motion.

If there's one talent that Selig has proven to possess, it's the uncanny ability to cut off baseball's momentum better than anybody else. No one quite has the skill to ruin a good baseball moment the way the used car dealer from Milwaukee can do it.

Bud Selig is small-minded.

If you believe the numbers being floated by Selig, contraction is going to cost baseball upwards of $400 million, nuke at least two markets, and alienate untold numbers of fans. (If you think the damage will only be in the affected markets, think again.)

Given the costs involved, why not consider alternative solutions? Why not take some of that $400 million and use it to fund a new ballpark in Minnesota? If MLB put up $100 million, and billionaire Carl Pohlad put up another $100 million, it would show that MLB is serious about doing something other than simply extorting money from local governments; that it is willing to invest in its own product, not merely turn profits at taxpayer expense.

From a business standpoint, this makes tremendous sense. After all, the Twins primary complaint is that the deal they have at the Metrodome doesn't provide them with enough revenue. They are essentially tenants of the Vikings. In a new, privately-funded park, they would reap all the benefits (parking, concessions, luxury boxes, etc.) themselves.

Such a move would represent creative, forward thinking. It would also prove what is painfully obvious to many people: that ballparks can and should be built primarily with private funds. Of course, this is exactly the opposite result from what Selig and Major League Baseball owners want to happen—which is why it will never come to pass.

I have previously said that Bud Selig could do more damage to baseball than anyone since Chick Gandil of the 1919 Black Sox.

I may have underestimated Selig. —EFQ

 

JOE SHEEHAN is an author for Baseball Prospectus. This essay previously appeared (in slightly different form) on the publication's Web site, www.baseballprospectus.com, and is reprinted here by permission.

© 2002 Joe Sheehan

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